Russian President Vladimir Putin is not scheduled to attend the high-profile U.N. General Assembly this week, an apparent boycott following the international body’s snub of Sputnik V as an acceptable coronavirus vaccine.
Multiple sources confirmed to U.S. News that Putin does not appear to have travel plans involving the New York summit this week, where attendees will have to show they have at least had one COVID-19 shot to be able to participate in indoor events. Russian state news service Tass on Monday confirmed Putin’s planned absence from a COVID-19 summit to take place on the sidelines. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow still had to determine if and how it would participate remotely.
But those who have followed the issue closely and how it has played out across Russia also point to the World Health Organization’s refusal to approve the Sputnik vaccine – the only vaccine available to most Russians – and New York City’s subsequent decision not to include it among the acceptable vaccines required of all U.N. attendees.
“This is not about vaccinated versus non-vaccinated but about discriminatory practice against Sputnik V vaccinated. As somebody also vaccinated by Sputnik, I am also angry,” says Ivan Kurilla, a political science professor at European University at Saint Petersburg, who specializes in U.S.-Russia relations.
“There are upcoming international academic conventions, and all Russians will face the same kind of discrimination,” Kurilla adds. “While nobody doubts Sputnik V works, the people with Sputinik are not allowed.”
The Russian government has similarly expressed outrage at the U.N.’s regulations for attendance, which Russia’s ambassador blasted as “a clearly discriminatory measure.”
The White House announced Monday it will relax international travel restrictions in November for foreign visitors entering the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will determine which COVID-19 vaccines the U.S. will accept. Shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for use in the U.S., though several other vaccines are in use worldwide.
The Kremlin did not offer a clear explanation for why Putin declined to travel to the U.N. General Assembly for the second time since the pandemic began, and the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the news follows reports of a coronavirus exposure among Putin’s inner circle, forcing the strongman to enter isolation last week.
Those concerns, along with claims Monday that a Russian election in which Putin’s party won a majority was marred by massive fraud, likely prompted the Russian leader to stay at home.
Putin’s own vaccination status has been the subject of some speculation in Russia. Officials there said the 68-year-old received his first shot in March, but the typically image-conscious president declined to be photographed while doing so as other world leaders have in order to bolster public confidence. The Kremlin has not said which vaccine Putin received, leading some to question whether it was a Russian vaccine at all.
WHO originally balked this summer at endorsing the Sputnik vaccine – the first to be registered for use and distributed widely internationally – over some initial concerns about its manufacturing facilities, before confirming at the time it would review its findings within a few weeks. That process halted abruptly last week when WHO confirmed it had suspended the review process due to what it considered manufacturing infringements for the vaccine.
“The WHO is waiting for the manufacturer to send news that their plant is up to code,” Jarbas Barbosa, the assistant director at WHO’s Pan American Health Organization said last week.
Public health regulations governing attendance at this week’s assembly have not discouraged all leaders who oppose non-Western vaccines or the vaccinations themselves. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who dubiously claims not to have been vaccinated, plans to flout the rules and travel to New York anyway. He is the first world leader scheduled to speak on Tuesday, before President Joe Biden.